How To Propagate Zig Zag Cactus (Ric Rac Propagation Guide)

How To Propagate Zig Zag Cactus (Ric Rac Propagation Guide)

The zigzag cactus, known by the scientific name Selenicereus anthonyanus, is a fascinating tropical cactus species cherished by plant enthusiasts for its intriguing appearance. Its unique characteristics include elongated, flattened stems that resemble fishbones or zigzag patterns, which is why it’s often called the “Ric Rac” or “Fishbone Plants.” This cacti’s native habitats are in the jungles of Mexico, but it is also a popular addition to any indoor plant collection.

In this article, we’ll review step-by-step instructions for propagation, including the necessary tools, preparation steps, planting techniques, and ongoing care to ensure successful propagation of your zigzag cactus. Additionally, we will touch upon alternative propagation methods and offer tips for caring for newly propagated cacti. By the end of this article, you’ll be well-equipped start propagating your zigzag cactus.

(Featured Image: Outdoor Zig Zag Cactus Branch)

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Zig Zag Propagation: Getting Started

Before embarking on the propagation journey of your zigzag cactus, it’s crucial to prepare adequately to ensure the success of the process. This section will cover the essential tools and materials, the significance of selecting a healthy parent plant, and proper plant care and maintenance before propagation.

Tools And Materials Needed

To get started with propagating your zigzag cactus, gather the following tools and materials:

  1. Pruning Shears or Clean Knife: You’ll need a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears or a knife to make precise cuts when taking stem cuttings or separating offsets.
  2. Well-Draining Potting Mix: Choose a specialized cactus or succulent potting mix that provides excellent drainage. Alternatively, you can create your mix by adding perlite or sand to regular potting soil. This cacti potting mix by Espoma Organic is THE BEST when it comes to growing and propagating indoor cacti or succulents. I highly recommend buying a quality soil blend like this for proper cacti propagation.
  3. Small Pots or Containers: Prepare small pots or containers for planting cuttings or offsets. Ensure that these containers have drainage holes to prevent overwatering.
  4. Rooting Hormone (Optional): While not essential, rooting hormone can help stimulate root development in cuttings. It’s available in powder or gel form at garden centers. I always use rooting hormone when propagating cacti or succulents. This rooting hormone powder by Bonide has given me great results over the years, and a single container lasts me for a very long time.
  5. Plastic Bags or Plastic Wrap (Optional): If you opt for humidity-boosting methods, such as using plastic bags or plastic wrap, have these ready for covering your propagating plants.
  6. Watering Can or Misting Bottle: You’ll need a watering can with a fine spout or a misting bottle to provide controlled moisture to the newly propagated plants.

Choosing a Healthy Parent Plant

Selecting a healthy parent plant is a critical step in successful propagation. Here’s why it matters:

  • Disease and Pest Resistance: A healthy parent plant is less susceptible to diseases and pests, reducing the risk of these issues affecting the propagated plants.
  • Vibrant Growth: Choose a parent plant that demonstrates vigorous growth with lush, green stems and no signs of stress or wilting.
  • No Signs of Disease: Inspect the parent plant for any signs of fungal infections, rot, or other diseases. Avoid propagating from a plant with visible issues.
  • Age and Maturity: Opt for a mature zigzag cactus that has reached a suitable size for propagation. Younger plants may not have the energy reserves needed for successful propagation.

Proper Plant Care and Maintenance Before Propagation

Before starting the propagation process, it’s essential to ensure that your parent plant is in optimal condition:

  • Watering: Water the parent plant a few days before taking cuttings or offsets. This ensures that it is adequately hydrated but not waterlogged during propagation.
  • Lighting: Place the parent plant in its ideal lighting conditions. Zigzag cacti thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Adequate light promotes healthy growth and will benefit the propagules.
  • Fertilization: Avoid fertilizing the parent plant for a few weeks before propagation. Excess nutrients can encourage rapid, weak growth in propagules.
  • Inspect for Pests: Examine the parent plant for any signs of pests, such as fungus gnats or spider mites. If detected, address the issue before propagating to prevent infestations in the new plants.
Zig zag cactus, sometimes referred to as ric rac cactus, is called so because of its resemblance to zig zag patterns.

Ric Rac

Propagate Zig Zag Cactus From Stem Cuttings

Propagating zigzag cactus using stem cuttings is typically the best way to create new plants. In this section, we’ll provide a detailed step-by-step guide on how to propagate your zigzag cactus using this method, from selecting and preparing the cutting to caring for the newly planted cuttings and addressing common issues.

Step 1: Selecting and Preparing the Cutting

  • Choose a Suitable Stem: Select a healthy stem from a mature plant that is at least a few inches long and has several zigzag segments. Ensure of the chosen flat stems is free from signs of disease or damage.
  • Make a Clean Cut: Use clean and sharp pruning shears or sharp scissors to make a clean cut just below one of the zigzag segments. Aim for a cutting that is approximately 3-4 inches long.
  • Callusing (Optional): Allow the cut end of the cutting to air dry and callus over for a day or two. This helps prevent rot when you plant it. Some gardeners also dip the callused end in rooting hormone powder for enhanced root development.

Step 2: Planting the Cutting

  • Prepare the Pot and Potting Mix: Fill a small pot or container with a well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix. Ensure the pot has drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
  • Insert the Cutting: Plant the callused end of the cutting into the potting mix, burying it about an inch deep. Gently firm the soil around the cutting to provide stability.

Step 3: Watering, Humidity, and Light Conditions

  • Initial Watering: Water the soil lightly to settle it around the fishbone cactus cuttings. Do not saturate the soil. Zigzag cacti prefer slightly drier conditions, so it’s essential not to overwater.
  • Provide Humidity (Optional): To increase humidity around the cutting, you can cover it with a clear plastic bag or use plastic wrap. Ensure the plastic doesn’t touch the cutting. This creates a mini-greenhouse effect that encourages root development.
  • Light Conditions: Place the potted cutting in a location with bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid too much direct sunlight which can scorch the cutting. A sunny windowsill or under a grow light is suitable.

Step 4: Ongoing Care and Troubleshooting

  • Watering Schedule: Allow the soil to dry out slightly between watering. Water sparingly to avoid waterlogged conditions, which can lead to root rot. Overwatering is a common issue with cacti.
  • Monitor for Root Development: After a few weeks to a few months, your cutting should start developing roots. You can gently tug on it to check for resistance, indicating that it has rooted. Be patient, as the timeline can vary.
  • Transplanting: Once roots have developed and the cutting has grown, transplant it into a new pot with a little more space to grow.

Troubleshooting Tips:

  • Yellowing or Shrinking Cutting: This may indicate overwatering. Reduce watering frequency.
  • Mold or Fungus: If you notice mold or fungus on the cutting or in the soil, it is a good idea to increase air circulation and reduce humidity around the plant.
  • Slow Root Development: If roots take longer to form, ensure proper humidity and avoid disturbing the cutting.
  • Stunted Growth: If the cutting’s growth is slow, check the light conditions and ensure it gets enough bright, indirect sunlight.

By following these steps and monitoring your cutting’s progress, you can successfully propagate your zigzag cactus using stem cuttings. Patience and attention to proper care are key to achieving healthy, thriving new plants.

Propagate Zig Zag Cactus From Offsets

Propagating zigzag cactus through offsets is another effective method to expand your cactus collection. In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of propagating zigzag cactus via offsets, including identification, separation, planting, and ongoing care.

Offsets, also known as pups or side shoots, are naturally occurring new growth points that emerge from the base of the parent zigzag cactus. Propagating through offsets is relatively straightforward:

Step 1: Identify Suitable Offsets

  • Timing: Wait until the offsets are at least a few inches long and have their root systems. This usually occurs when they are a few months old or more.
  • Visual Clues: Look for offsets that have their distinct stems and roots, indicating they are capable of independent growth. They should be firmly attached to the parent plant.

Step 2: Separate and Plant Offsets

  • Prepare the Offset Container: Choose a small pot or container with drainage holes and fill it with well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix.
  • Gently Remove the Offset: Carefully detach the offset from the parent plant by using clean pruning shears or a knife. Make the cut as close to the base of the offset as possible without damaging the parent plant.
  • Plant the Offset: Plant the offset in the prepared container, burying it to a depth that covers its roots and a small portion of the stem. Firmly press the soil around the offset to provide stability.

Step 3: Offset-Propagated Cacti Care

Once you have successfully separated and planted the offsets, follow these care guidelines to ensure their healthy development:

  • Watering: Water the offset sparingly to keep the soil lightly moist but not soggy. Allow the top inch or so of the soil to dry out before watering again.
  • Light Conditions: Provide bright, indirect sunlight to the offset, similar to the conditions recommended for mature zigzag cacti. Too much sunlight can scorch the young plant.
  • Humidity: While offsets generally do not require added humidity, you can cover them with a plastic bag or plastic wrap for the first few days after planting to provide a slightly more humid environment.
  • Transplanting: As the offset grows and its root system develops, you may need to transplant it into a larger pot with regular cactus care practices. Use a potting mix suitable for mature zigzag cacti.

Additional Tips:

  • Monitor the offsets closely for signs of overwatering or under watering. Adjust your watering routine accordingly.
  • Be patient, as offsets may take some time to establish themselves and show significant growth. Their growth rate can vary.
  • If you have multiple offsets, you can choose to plant them in separate containers or group them together in a larger pot, depending on your preferences and available space.

By following these steps and caring for your offset-propagated zigzag cacti as they grow, you can successfully propagate this unique plant and expand your collection with healthy, thriving specimens.

Zig zag cactus that was propagated from a cutting features a large pink flower in bloom.

my image, Floriano Calcagnile, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Alternative Propagation Methods For Zig Zag Cactus

While stem cuttings and offsets are the most common methods for propagating zigzag cacti, there are different methods that gardeners may explore for specific purposes. In this section, we’ll briefly introduce two less common propagation methods, including when and why they might be used, along with basic instructions and considerations for each.

1. Grafting:

Introduction: Grafting involves joining two different cactus species or varieties, with one serving as the rootstock (base) and the other as the scion (top or desired portion). This method is less common for zigzag cacti but can be used for specific reasons.

When and Why to Use Grafting:

  • Compatibility: Grafting can be used when attempting to propagate zigzag cacti onto a rootstock of a different cactus species or variety. This may be done for compatibility reasons or to take advantage of the rootstock’s growth characteristics.

Instructions and Considerations:

  • Select a Rootstock: Choose a compatible cactus species or variety as the rootstock. Ensure it is healthy and free from diseases.
  • Prepare the Scion: Take a stem cutting from your zigzag cactus and prepare it as the scion. It should be a clean, healthy cutting with a callused end.
  • Grafting Technique: Use a sharp, clean knife to make a diagonal cut on both the rootstock and scion. Join the two cut surfaces together, securing them with grafting tape or rubber bands.
  • Healing and Growth: Place the grafted cactus in a warm, bright location with indirect sunlight. Over time, the scion should start growing onto the rootstock. Once they are fused, care for the grafted cactus as a single plant.

2. Division:

Introduction: Division involves separating a clumping or branching zigzag cactus into multiple individual plants. While not as common as stem cuttings or offsets, division can be used to rejuvenate older plants or manage overgrown specimens.

When and Why to Use Division:

  • Overcrowding: Division is useful when the zigzag cactus has grown too large or overcrowded in its pot. It allows you to create multiple smaller plants from one large one.
  • Rejuvenation: Older, leggy plants with declining health can be divided to encourage new growth and vitality.

Instructions and Considerations:

  • Choose a Healthy Parent Plant: Ensure the parent plant is healthy and free from diseases.
  • Remove from Pot: Gently remove the parent plant from its pot and shake off excess soil.
  • Locate Natural Divisions: Look for natural divisions in the plant, where individual stems or segments can be separated.
  • Use Clean Cuts: Using clean pruning shears or a knife, carefully cut along the natural divisions, separating the plant into smaller sections.
  • Plant Separated Sections: Plant each separated section in its pot with well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix.
  • Care for Newly Divided Plants: Provide proper care, including appropriate lighting, watering, and humidity, to encourage the growth of the newly divided plants.

Have Fertilizer On Hand For Your Plants

After successfully propagating your zigzag cacti through stem cuttings or offsets, it’s essential to provide proper post-propagation care to ensure the health and growth of your new plants. In this section, we’ll cover newly propagated fishbone cacti care, covering watering, light, temperature requirements, and addressing potential challenges.

Post-Propagation Care for Both Stem Cuttings and Offsets:

  1. Watering:
    • Initial Watering: After planting, give the newly propagated cacti a good watering to settle the soil around the roots. Ensure that the top 1.5 inches of soil is evenly moist but not waterlogged.
    • Established Routine: As the cacti acclimate and develop roots, adjust the watering routine to maintain slightly drier conditions. Allow the top inch or so of the soil to dry out before watering again. Overwatering is a common issue that can lead to root rot.
  2. Light Requirements:
    • Bright, Indirect Sunlight: Place the fresh cutting in a location with bright, indirect sunlight. They thrive in well-lit conditions but should be protected from direct sun exposure, which can scorch the young plants.
    • Grow Lights: If you’re growing the cacti indoors or in low-light environments, consider using grow lights to provide adequate illumination.
  3. Temperature:
    • Moderate Temperatures: Maintain temperatures between 70-100°F (21-37°C) for optimal growth. Zigzag cacti can tolerate slightly cooler conditions during their dormant period in winter.

Addressing Potential Challenges:

  1. Overwatering: Overwatering is one of the most common problems encountered when growing indoor cacti. Signs of overwatering include yellowing or wilting stems and mushy, discolored roots. To address this issue, reduce the frequency of watering and ensure that the pots have proper drainage. Be aware that cacti often need less water during starting in the winter months and lasting through late spring.
  2. Underwatering: Cacti suffering from dehydration may develop wrinkled or shriveled stems. Increase the frequency of watering, but always allow the soil to dry between watering sessions.
  3. Pests: Keep an eye out for common cactus pests like mealybugs or spider mites. If detected, address the issue promptly by gently removing the pests with a soft brush or using an appropriate insecticidal soap.
  4. Fungus or Mold: Mold or fungus may develop in overly humid conditions. Improve air circulation and reduce humidity around the plants by removing any plastic coverings or increasing ventilation.
  5. Slow Growth: Newly propagated cacti may exhibit slow growth initially. Be patient and continue to provide appropriate care. It may take several months for noticeable growth to occur. In general, the ric rac cactus is not a fast-growing plant.
  6. Transplanting: When the newly propagated cacti outgrow their initial containers, transplant them into larger pots with the same well-draining potting mix. Ensure that the new pots have proper drainage and continue to follow the watering and light recommendations.

By following these post-propagation care guidelines and addressing potential challenges promptly, you can ensure that your newly propagated zigzag cacti thrive and develop into healthy, mature plants. Patience and consistent care are key to their long-term success.

Expand Your Indoor Plant Collection

Indoor plants bring immense joy and color into the home. Investing in the right types of plants for your indoor plant collection can help keep your home looking beautiful all year long. If you want to learn more about the best types of indoor plants to grow, how to propagate different types of indoor plants, and tips for indoor gardening, check out these related guides:

Indoor potted zig zag cactus or ric rac cactus plant that can be propagated with offset.

Anneli Salo, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons